Texas Leaders Want to Punish ‘sanctuary Cities,' But Local Agencies Wouldn't Lose Much Cash

AUSTIN — For more than two weeks, Gov. Greg Abbott has been hunting for ways to punish Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez for adopting a sanctuary policy for unauthorized immigrants.So far, he’s come up with slim pickings, knocking off just $1.8 million of the county’s $1 billion budget — less than two-tenths of 1 percent.As senators prepare to vote this week on a bill that would penalize local governments that enact so-called sanctuary policies under which they refuse to enforce federal immigration laws, Republican proponents of the measure are running into the same challenge Abbott has: The state doesn’t give counties a lot of money, so there’s just not much to take away. What’s more, most state grants don’t go to sheriffs’ departments, they go to prosecutors’ offices for court-related programs.“The state spends very little money on public safety and law enforcement,” said Shannon Edmonds, director of governmental relations for the Texas District and County Attorneys Association. “There’s only so much they can cut.”Nevertheless, Sen. Charles Perry’s bill that would cut state grants to cities and counties that don’t enforce federal immigration law has generated passionate debate at the Capitol with heated rhetoric both for and against the measure. That’s because for both sides, it’s about the message the ban sends more than the dollars it cuts.Perry’s bill, which Abbott has put on the fast track in this legislative session, would prohibit cities, counties and college campuses from adopting policies that prevent local police from enforcing immigration laws. It would cut off grant funds to those local entities and to counties where the sheriff refuses to comply with federal immigration detainers -- nonbinding requests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold people in jail who might be in the country illegally.Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez, a Democrat, found herself in Republican Abbott’s crosshairs in 2015, when she said the governor misunderstood her department’s policy regarding immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally. The confusion was cleared up, and Abbott took no money from Dallas County.But losing state grants wouldn’t matter much to the county, said County Commissioner John Wiley Price. The county relies on “a few million” dollars of state grants for a smattering of programs. But the bulk of the county’s $1 billion budget comes from county property taxes. The county would run just fine without state grants, he said.“They’ve been choking us for years,” Price said. “I’m brand new to what all the hoopla is about, other than just political grandstanding.”Cary Roberts, spokesman for the Texas Association of Counties, said staff there hasn’t calculated the dollars the state’s counties would stand to lose if they adopted sanctuary policies. But he said that most county budgets, like those in Dallas and Austin, consist largely of local taxpayer dollars.Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said not a penny of the $1.8 million Abbott has so far taken away has come from the sheriff’s department, which enacted the offending policy. Instead, the dollars came out of programs that help provide rehabilitation for prostitutes and for the drug-addicted parents of children at risk of falling into the state’s struggling foster care system, among other things.“Not in any way, shape or form” does the monetary penalty affect the county’s immigration policies or the sheriff’s department, Eckhardt said this week. "It is retribution for a lawful but political stance that is adverse to his political stance."Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, announced an online fundraising initiative called #StrongerTogether to raise private donations to support the programs hit by Abbott's cuts."If Governor Abbott is willing to sacrifice our veterans, women and children to score political points, then we will show him the power of love," Rodriguez said in a prepared statement.Sen. Perry said it wasn’t the state’s fault that Travis County was punished for the sanctuary city policy. He put the blame on Hernandez and said the cuts wouldn’t have been necessary if she’d complied with Abbott’s request to reverse the policy.“There are consequences to actions,” Perry said.Abbott, Perry and the Republican architects of the ban are looking for ways to deepen those consequences. Abbott told FOX News this weekend that he also wants to impose fines and criminal penalties on law enforcement officials who choose not to enforce federal immigration laws."If they're going to take an oath to follow the laws of this country, they'd better do it or face the consequences," Abbott said.But the monetary penalties that are currently the teeth of Perry’s bill hardly entered the discussion during a 16-hour-long Senate hearing last week that drew more than 400 people from across the state to testify. Arguments on both sides zeroed-in on the political and emotional ramifications of the bill.Proponents of the ban focused on the admonition it sends to county officials that state lawmakers want them to uphold state and federal laws or face consequences if they don’t. Their fear is that unauthorized immigrants who are released from local jails instead of being turned over to federal authorities will go on to commit more serious crimes. Perry, the bill’s author, said he hopes the consequences for elected officials who enact sanctuary policies aren’t just fiscal. He expects that local voters will be angered and kick out of office local officials who promote them.“I would hope the community would rise up,” he said. “The state’s not the bad actor here.”The bill’s opponents object to its discriminatory potential. They worry that despite the measure’s explicit prohibitions on racial profiling, officers will feel pressured to engage in that practice to ensure they aren’t accused of failing to enforce immigration laws.And they are concerned that requiring local officers to become de facto immigration agents will amplify the fears that many immigrants already have. Some families live with constant worry they will be separated by deportation, and further alienating immigrant neighborhoods from police could make the entire community less safe, they argue.“My greatest concern is what this will do to police-community relations,” said Brian Manley, Austin’s interim police chief. “Once you break down that trust, I just don’t think the community will see it the same.”  Continue reading...

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